I have written about FASTag as a complex solution to a simple problem of toll collection. Apart from being simple, the problem itself is unwarranted and unnecessarily created in the first place. FASTag is supposed to make toll collection cashless; the question that should be raised is – Is the existing logic of toll collection system – having multiple toll gates apt?
The point, I am raising, is about the transactional issue of toll collection and the completely avoidable hash that the Government has made out of it. This is not a debate whether toll should be abolished but about the abolition of multiple toll gates.
I travelled 350 km on NH 44 from Hyderabad towards Nagpur, 2 weeks back. There were 7 toll booths in this stretch. It is out-rightly crazy, rather dimwit to have a toll booth at every 50 km. Even if FASTag would have worked in all its glory as planned, the traveller anyways would have needed to stop at every 50 km. What ease and comfort of travel experience are we talking about?
Abolish multiple toll gates
Everyone would have gone to a mall. Everyone would have parked their vehicle in a mall. What is the parking charge strategy of the mall? They don’t charge you upfront; you only get an automated ticket that mentions the in-time. When you go out, after whatever time, the parking charge machine will calculate the total time parked and charge accordingly.
The similar design principle can be applied to toll roads. When the traveller enters the toll road, s/he gets a ticket with zero distance and whenever s/he gets out of the toll road; the machine will calculate the distance travelled and charge a SINGLE toll. I exited NH 44 after 350 km, so I should pay the toll at the end of my travel, and not stopped seven times, every 50 km, to pay the toll.
I know the Government will raise doubts that how can a solution be so simplified. They will have several concerns. I will address them too.
The Government will say that the reason for having 7 toll booths in a 350 km road is that it has been built by different concessionaires. Every concessionaire has to recover the cost as per their contract and hence their respective toll booths.
The solution: The Government will know how much road length has been built by which concessionaire. When I pay the total toll at the end of 350 km, the Government can put a formula to divide the total amount to each concessionaire proportionately as per pre-agreed terms.
The concessionaire has to be bothered about recovering the expenses, which they will get. There is no reason for the concessionaire to get into the process of how the amount is reaching them. You need to be paid, you get paid. Period. Don’t get into the nitty-gritty of collecting money.
Multiple vehicle sizes
The Government will say that the toll rates are fixed as per the vehicle sizes. It is fairly complex, so we need this maze of toll booths, so that every vehicle pays the fair share of toll, so that there is no cheating. This has gone into the revenue projections of the toll operator. Blah, blah.
The solution: Go back to the mall parking example. There will at least be two kinds of vehicles in the mall parking – two-wheelers and four-wheelers. If their rudimentary machine can handle two parking charges, the machines installed by Government can surely handle more.
Make it even simpler. The Government has put RFID scanners for FASTag. The same scanners can be configured to generate the ticket as per the vehicle dimension/weight. If this automated solution is not feasible, a person at the entry of the toll road can hand over the ticket as per the vehicle size. S/he has to not collect toll, which will be done wherever the vehicle exits the toll road.
The exit control
This will be the most important point raised by the concessionaires/Government. How do we trust that the vehicle that has entered the toll road will get out of the toll road only through designated exits? We stand to lose our revenue if the vehicle does not exit through us.
The solution: Let us flip the logic. Does the concessionaire/Government ever raise a claim that the vehicle has got on to the toll road without paying the toll? No. They regulate the toll road entry with an iron fist, an absolute control. When they can manage the entry so successfully, what stops them from managing the exit with the same aplomb?
All the highways skirt villages/towns/cities, either they have a bypass/flyover and are barricaded. With so much control all through the toll road, how can the concessionaire/Government even consider that the traveller will exit without their knowing? Except for the traveller spending the rest of the life on the toll road/vanishing in thin air; there is no way out but to pay the toll.
Even now, if the concessionaire/Government says that they are unsure, they need to answer what kind of leaky road have they built? In that case, they do not deserve to collect the toll.
It is possible
I am sure that many more concerns will be raised to the abolition of multiple toll gates. I am even surer that all these concerns can get addressed. If the Government wants to, if the Government has a will.
Everyone travelling on toll roads would have noticed gigantic green boards at the toll gates listing the dignitaries that are exempt from paying the toll. Just that, none of these people would have ever travelled through them. If even one of them would have done so, even without paying the toll/stopping by, they would realize the pain of going over the speed-breakers every 50 km.
There is a definite way to get rid of multiple toll gates. Provided the decision-makers live a common travellers’ life for a day on the toll road. Provided they get over the notion of collecting fees (toll) first, rendering service (road) later. The current toll collection system is a perfect case-study of the Government’s inherent distrust of citizens and, of course, utter incompetence.